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Officials investigate new virus linked to death of Bourbon County resident

Health officials don’t know for sure how Bourbon virus – named after Bourbon County – is spread, but they think it may be through ticks, such as this deer tick, or other insects.
Health officials don’t know for sure how Bourbon virus – named after Bourbon County – is spread, but they think it may be through ticks, such as this deer tick, or other insects. File photo

State and federal health officials are investigating a never-before-seen virus possibly linked to the death of a resident of Bourbon County over the summer.

Health officials don’t know for sure how Bourbon virus – named after the county in southeast Kansas – is spread, but they think it may be through ticks or other insects.

“The symptoms for the resident that died resembled other tick-borne diseases, which include fever and fatigue,” Charlie Hunt, state epidemiologist, said in an audio file provided by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

It’s unknown whether the virus caused the resident’s death or how much it was a contributing factor, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

It was originally thought the resident had a tick-borne illness such as Heartland virus disease, based on symptoms. But the resident tested negative for that and similar diseases.

Officials plan to collect and test ticks and other insects for the virus, as well as to test other residents with similar symptoms who also tested negative for Heartland virus in the past year, according to KDHE. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed blood tests that can be used to identify the virus.

Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital, helped care for the patient and is doing a study with the CDC and KDHE on the virus. The hospital said Hawkinson was not available for an interview Monday.

In a video the hospital posted online, Hawkinson said the virus had a genome similar to those found in eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, but no virus like it had been previously identified in the western hemisphere.

Hawkinson also said in the video that a major symptom for the Bourbon virus was anorexia.

Health officials recommend that people avoid wooded and bushy areas; use insect repellent with DEET; use products with permethrin on clothing; wear long sleeves and pants; shower or bathe after being outdoors and check for ticks; check to make sure ticks don’t come inside on pets or gear.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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